It’s no secret around the state that the girls swimming sectionals are a do or die proposition. All those early morning practices. The two-a-days. The super cramped conference and invitational schedules mashed in before the holiday.
Now, it’s go time.
With the ushering in of the Northridge and Warsaw Girls Swimming Sectionals Thursday and ultimately Saturday, preliminary times will determine who will battle for their tickets to the IHSAA State Finals on Feb. 9. Champions in 11 swim events will earn automatic berths to state, and anyone meeting state standard times will also be invited to join the fun. The top four divers at Northridge and Warsaw will compete on Feb. 5 at South Bend Riley in the Diving Regional, where the top four at Riley will also move on to state.
Northridge will host one of the more interesting matchups in the area, with two-time Northern Lakes Conference champion Brittney Walters looking to reach state in the 200 free for the second consecutive year. The showdown will come against Wawasee’s Breanna Robinson, whom Walters beat in each NLC final including by less than a second earlier this month. Robinson, however, finished second at state a year ago in the 200 while Walters, who had the top prelim swim in Indianapolis, fell to eighth.
Walters and Robinson, according to the state’s rankings, are one-two heading into the weekend at 1:50.75 and 1:50.83.
“Bre really isn’t looking at sectionals right now,” began Wawasee head coach Julie Robinson after the NLC meet, “her time is a state-qualifying time win or lose the race. She really is focusing on state.”
Robinson will look to defend her 100 free title, which she finished third in the state a year ago and easily won for the second time at the NLC this month. Robinson is the top seed by a full three seconds, and has one of the top times in the state this year at 51.65.
Wawasee’s Betsy Rozow is the top seed in the backstroke but will likely be tested by Elkhart Central’s Rebecca Hasler. The 200 and 400 free relay teams from Syracuse will also have a say in each event, with the Lady Warriors the top seed in the 400 and seeded second in the 200.
“They all have their goals and have been working hard,” Robinson said of her girls team. “I think the girls are very excited to see what they can do, and I really think we should have a great meet.”
Warsaw will gladly host its own sectional, where 13 other teams will take aim at the Lady Tigers. However, defending champion Culver Academy will likely have its say again this year after a competitive dual season that had the Cadets go 7-1 which included a win at Warsaw.
The Lady Tigers should be well represented in the fight for first place after its showing at the NLC three weeks ago. Three runner-up swims from Warsaw swimmers had coach Nate Long beaming. A 500 free eye-opener from Cynthia Juarez, who dropped over 10 seconds from her previous best to a 5:29.93 highlighted the day, which was matched in delight by Ashley Van Wormer’s showing in the breaststroke.
Warsaw’s medley relay team have one of the state’s better times and the Rheinhardt girls – Margot and Malorie – could make waves in several events.
“I’m really excited to see what we can do,” Long said following the boys NLC last week. “That NLC we had was awesome, the girls put up some really fast times, and we’re meeting a lot of our goals. It should be fun.”
Tippecanoe Valley will also take part in the Warsaw Sectional, having completed a positive dual season. The team is led by Katie Gunter, Barbie Kimmel, Alaina O’Connell and Ericka Webb, of which Gunter has posted times that are comparable with some of the top swims in the sectional.
Preliminaries for the sectionals begin at 5:30 p.m. at both sites Thursday evening. Diving begins Saturday morning with its preliminary rounds, followed by swim championships beginning at 1 p.m. in Middlebury and Warsaw.